Spiritual and Religious Considerations

Spiritual issues are central to the family's experience when facing the end of a child's life (Liben et al. 2008). However, spiritual needs seem to receive less attention than physical, social, and psychological needs, in terms of both research and clinical practice (Davies et al. 2002). Spiritual care is distinct from the medical, nursing, and social work dimensions of care that focus on identification and resolution of specific problems. In contrast, spiritual care is about accompaniment and presence in the journey of making meaning, and it often involves assisting in the challenging task of redefining hope (Davies et al. 2002). Research by Robinson et al. (2006) highlighted the integral role of spiritual care at the end of a child's life. In their study, when parents were asked what helped them most during their child's last phase of life, 73% of the responses reflected spiritual or religious themes (e.g., prayer, faith, access to and care from clergy, belief that the parent-child relationship transcends death).

Health care professionals, however, often lack training in assessment of patients' religious and spiritual concerns and, as a result, may inadvertently neglect an important aspect of care. To assist in bridging this gap, Davies et al. (2002) provided guidelines for addressing the spiritual issues of children and families in pediatric hospice and palliative care. Optimal spiritual care can be provided when knowledge of such attitudes and perspectives of the individual child and family is then coupled with familiarity about the philosophies, beliefs, ceremonies, and rituals of various religions.

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